Americans can’t wait for Congress to address climate change
President Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber on Feb. 12, 2013. (Chuck Kennedy / White House)
Last week, President Obama demanded that Congress take action on climate change, or else he would.
But, after years of political gridlock on the climate issue, coupled with rising seas and worsening droughts, one thing is clear: the nation simply cannot afford to wait any longer to take action. Though Congress may eventually pull together and pass a climate bill, the president must not wait on that uncertain prospect. He must act now.
After all, today the U.S. is farther from enacting a nationwide plan to reduce carbon emissions than it was four years ago. Congress has failed miserably. And though America’s greenhouse gas emissions are beginning to decline, the rate at which they’re doing so is nowhere near what we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.
President Obama has said repeatedly that for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more. But time is running out.
We must act now, first by unshackling the EPA, which is tasked with protecting our health and our environment. The agency’s first order of business in the climate change fight should be to adopt limits on industrial carbon pollution from power plants, which account for the biggest share of our carbon pollution. EPA has both the duty and the power to implement this critical step, but has so far only proposed measures limiting emissions from brand-new power plants. Congress directed the agency to address these pollutants, the Supreme Court confirmed the agency’s duty, and the president should ensure that the agency acts swiftly to cut carbon emission from both existing and new power plants.
The president must also make good on his promise to boost energy efficiency by cutting in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. This move will not only cut carbon emissions, it will keep money in the hands of American consumers and out of the pockets of the dirty fossil fuel industry.
Finally, President Obama must reject proposals that tie us to an even-deeper dependence on fossil fuels. He cherishes an “all of the above” approach to energy, even though that approach does not differentiate between energy sources that put us on the right track to addressing climate change and the sources that actually make the problem worse. It make no sense to express a commitment to addressing climate change and simultaneously pursue ever-larger investments in ever-more extreme forms of fossil fuel energy.
For years, in the face of climate inaction, Earthjustice has used the power of laws like the Clean Air Act to fight climate change. Earthjustice's landmark court victory, which put in motion strict new limits on toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants, drives the retirement of many dirty plants and a shift to cleaner power. We are also targeting oil and gas drilling and refining, which generate large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane—a potent climate polluter. And, our work on reducing black carbon, or soot, will decrease the rate of snow and ice melt in the Arctic.
Earthjustice’s legal work has helped set the wheels in motion for tackling the most pressing issue of our time. Now, President Obama must take the reins and lead the nation in reducing pollution, preparing our communities for the consequences of climate change and speeding the transition to more sustainable sources of energy. How quickly and aggressively he steps forward will demonstrate the seriousness with which he takes the challenge of climate change.